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The Preview by Peter English in Brisbane
March 3, 2008
The repercussions of a second finals defeat go further than Australia losing a tri-series that has been so important to the country over the past 29 years. Another slip on Tuesday would lead to two of the team's long-term players bowing out a couple of days early without a satisfactory send-off.
At the moment the timing of the Adam Gilchrist and Brad Hogg retirements depends on the result at the Gabba and in the side's current form an early and empty-handed exit would not be unexpected. Gilchrist will have a say in the outcome, but the spot of Hogg is not as secure and Australia will consider Stuart Clark as they try to smother India on a bouncy surface.
In the other dressing room a much happier scenario applies to Sachin Tendulkar, who capped his last series in Australia with a composed century to seal the six-wicket win in Sydney. There has been no public decision on his future, but another trip to Australia is as unlikely as Harbhajan Singh seeking residency here. When Tendulkar spoke about his 117 on Sunday night he was content, which is a worrying sign for Australia.
"It was extremely good to go one-up in the series, the first blow is what matters," Tendulkar said. "We don't have much time before the second final, but we have to get up and put up a good show. We are up for it and we want to continue this winning performance."
The tourists are desperate to go home and the prospect of staying in Australia for another couple of days is not attractive. Controversy is raised with almost every gesture, word or gloop of saliva and the tour has worn down everyone. Another performance like the one India gave on Sunday would end the season of theatrics, which has been combined with gripping contests.
Over the past decade it has been rare to see Australia controlled and their five games against India have resulted in two successes each and one washout. The home team is concerned and after the SCG defeat Ponting had to remind his players that they pride themselves on their output in big games. When the most important tussle of the limited-overs season arrived they were overrun.
"You would be un-human not to have a little bit of a hit to the confidence when you're not getting the results that you're looking for," Australia's coach Tim Nielsen said. "That's the challenge of elite sport. Our challenge at the moment is to keep these blokes up and get them in a state of mind that gives them every opportunity."
The assignment has become much harder as they prepare for their third match in five days. Only three times have Australia lost the opening game of the home finals and come back to take a three-match series - twice against South Africa in the 1990s and once in 2005-06 against Sri Lanka. On three occasions when they have lost the opening encounter the contest has been concluded in two affairs, including last year's 2-0 defeat by England. That result embarrassed the hosts and as the tri-series concept prepares to depart the same emotion is being felt.
While Australia are low, India are on a massive high. The young team accepted many handshakes from local and Indian well wishers during their travel from Sydney to Brisbane on Monday and they were relaxed by their success.
Ishant Sharma (finger) and Tendulkar (groin) have nagging concerns - the batsman's injury has been troubling him for a while - but both are confident of playing. Two spinners will not be used at the Gabba, which is bad news for Piyush Chawla, who bowled well in Sydney, and Irfan Pathan's treatment from Matthew Hayden may create some discussion.
With each team leaning towards an extra fast bowler a summer of high energy may end in a battle of speed. The swing-friendly conditions mean Sreesanth should come in for Chawla and he is more likely to move the ball through the humid Brisbane air than the seamer Munaf Patel.
Although a couple of light showers are predicted for Tuesday, there should be no repeat of the heavy rain that forced the abandonment of the opening match of the series. On that occasion India's bowlers had the best of the conditions and the home side was reduced to 3 for 51. Since then things have got only slightly easier for Ponting's men.
Australia's major worry is their batting form and more meetings were held on Monday in an effort to fix the problem. The tension continues to increase and with one more slip they will be out of their own competition forever. If that happens Hogg and Gilchrist will never return.
Australia (likely) 1 Matthew Hayden, 2 Adam Gilchrist (wk), 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Andrew Symonds, 6 Michael Hussey, 7 James Hopes, 8 Brett Lee, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Nathan Bracken, 11 Stuart Clark.
India (likely) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Robin Uthappa, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Praveen Kumar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Sreesanth, 11 Ishant Sharma.
Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth